Check before you hire

By Steve Hart

Screening job applicants can help save employers time and trouble, reports Steve Hart.

Mary Anne Thompson. Photo / Ross Setford
Mary Anne Thompson. Photo / Ross Setford

Employers need to stop being so trusting when it comes to hiring staff, says a former security intelligence officer.

Craig Gubbins, owner of screening firm Personal Verification, says managers typically think nothing of having a pre-purchase check on a car but baulk at spending less than $200 on a background check for a new member of staff.

Gubbins says the case of Mary Anne Thompson, the former head of the New Zealand Immigration Service who pleaded guilty in the Wellington District Court to CV fraud on Wednesday, is another reminder that employers need to screen people before they hire them.

Thompson faces the possibility of community work and a fine when she is sentenced next month for claiming to have a PhD from the London School of Economics.

"More often than not, staff who have something to hide are found out by chance, as was the case with Thompson," says Gubbins.

"It is rarely because of a formal check as part of normal hiring procedure or when a person is promoted based on the qualifications they claim to have.

"And despite numerous high-profile cases, employers are just not catching on that they need to be more proactive when it comes to verifying what they are told by job applicants."

While Thompson claimed to hold a qualification she didn't have, others buy fake degrees and present them to employers as being authentic.

Gubbins says people who buy degrees online do so to boost their ego. Typically, employers typically don't question them.

"Many people wouldn't know what an authentic degree certificate looks like, so you have to go direct to the university to check," says Gubbins.

He says many universities put information online so anyone can check if a person has the degree they claim to have.

"Online records may only go back to the 1980s, although the information available varies from country to country," he says.

Gubbins, who spent 26 years as an SIS officer, also warns that some organisations that sell fake degrees will reassure an employer when they call to check its authenticity.

"Picking out these bogus universities from the genuine ones can be difficult for an employer," he says.

"How would you know if a university based in a foreign country is legitimate or not? This is where some firms are being tripped up and where professional screening firms can help."

Gubbins says another problem is that Kiwi employers think they are good judges of character and make decisions based on what they feel as opposed to the facts.

Perhaps employers feel awkward going behind the back of a person they may be about to hire?

"Well, we are completely upfront with any job applicant we are asked to screen," says Gubbins.

"We show them a list of the things we will be checking for, and nothing is done without their consent.

"Sometimes a candidate will withdraw their application once we get involved - and that can save the employer money because they don't have to pay us.

"At the end of the process we give the candidate a copy of our findings, although we never include what referees have said or our recommendations. The employer gets the full report."

However, bogus qualifications are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dodgy CVs, says Gubbins.

"People may also lie about having criminal convictions," he says. "Perhaps that time listed on the CV as being spent on an OE was really prison time."

Gubbins says incidences are rife of staff stealing from their employer and work colleagues, and his thoughts are borne out by the six-monthly fraud barometer compiled by KPMG.

The report says managers are the biggest risk to business as they were responsible for 30 per cent of all fraud cases in the 18 months to June last year.

The most common type of fraud is when a member of staff overrides or manipulates accounting procedures to benefit themselves.

KPMG forensics partner Mark Leishman says each case of fraud that featured in its 2008 survey averaged $1.12 million, but in the first six months of last year, this decreased to $780,000.

Leishman says once people discover loopholes to pocket cash they will exploit the situation until they are caught.

Private firms are not the only ones suffering as a result of rotten staff.

"Government bodies are the other major target for fraudsters. They account for more than 25 per cent of frauds," he says.

When it comes to hiring staff, Gubbins says everything from qualifications to work history needs to be checked.

"It's okay to believe what you are told by a prospective employee, but have it checked before you hire them," he says.

- Herald on Sunday

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